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Hungary loosens COVID restrictions for those with immunity cards

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A Hungarian woman shows her government-issued COVID-19 immunity card in Budapest
A Hungarian woman shows her government-issued COVID-19 immunity card in Budapest   -   Copyright  Bela Szandelszky/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Hungarians with government-issued immunity cards can now go indoors to a host of recreational venues, as part of the country’s loosening of coronavirus restrictions.

As of Saturday, those with the plastic cards may enter indoor dining rooms, hotels, theaters, cinemas, spas, gyms, libraries and museums among other venues.

Opening hours for businesses were extended to 11pm and an overnight curfew that has been in place since November will now start later, at midnight.

The latest reopening measures follow an ambitious vaccination campaign, which has seen four million first doses reaching around 40% of the population.

It is the only EU member state to so far use vaccines from Russia and China, in addition to the EU-approved jabs.

While Hungary has the second-highest vaccination rate in the EU - after Malta - it had the world’s highest COVID mortality rate per one million inhabitants over the spring, amid a devastating surge in cases.

It has seen over 27,500 deaths in the pandemic.

‘Now we are on the attack’

“In the past, we defended ourselves by closing, thereby slowing the spread of the virus. But now we are on the attack,” the prime minister Viktor Orban said on Friday as he announced the reopening.

“The vaccine is like a bulletproof vest. The virus bounces off of it.”

Vaccinated people and those who have recovered from COVID-19 are eligible for the Hungarian immunity cards, which must be presented at establishments before entry. Businesses can be issued heavy fines if they allow non-card holders to enter.

The whole issue of immunity cards or so-called COVID-19 passports is fraught, with critics saying they discriminate against people in poorer nations who do not have access to vaccines.

Hungary has also been countering possible EU efforts to issue such documents only to those who have gotten vaccines approved by the EU's regulatory agency, not Chinese or Russian vaccine jabs.

A football match in Budapest on Saturday is expected to admit fans holding immunity cards. A competing club issued a statement saying masks would not be required in the stadium but urged fans to wear them anyway.

On Thursday, Hungary’s foreign affairs minister, Peter Szijjarto, announced that travel between Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro would be permitted without quarantines or testing requirements for immunity card holders from those countries.

Negotiations for similar agreements are underway with Greece and Israel, he said.